Tag Archives: Star Trek

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

With our arrival at Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, we are at the end the run of movies centered on the original series cast.  We are now up to 1991, a dozen years after the release of the first film and a good quarter century past when the original series started the whole phenomena.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

By this point Star Trek: The Next Generation had gotten through its initial rough start and had settled down into its fourth of seven seasons, so there was a newer and perhaps more relevant and approachable Trek canon to explore.  Meanwhile, even The Simpsons would poke fun at the aging original series cast in the Itchy & Scratchy Movie episode the next year.

Star Trek XII – So Very Tired

And then there was Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, already in declining health, who passed away a couple of months before the film’s debut.  So, in this time of change and transition, the final fling of the original crew arrived.

The film opens with the USS Excelsior, now commanded by Captain Sulu, detects a massive explosion on the Klingon moon Praxis, which shatters that celestial object and damages the Klingon home world so badly that it is estimated that it will no longer be able to support life in the next 50 years.

The Klingons get the Federation on the line and want to talk peace as the cold war with the Federation is no longer economically sustainable, something of a reflection of our own times when the movie launched, where the break up of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact led to a new reality between east and west.

Were the Klingons always a stand in for the Russians?  And maybe the Romulans for China?  I don’t know, but for the moment that fits.

The Klingon leader Gorkon, played by David Warner who was the Federation emissary to Nimbus III in Star Trek V, wants to come to the Federation to discuss the terms of a new relationship between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.

Kirk and his bridge crew, minus Sulu and Spock, as summoned to Star Fleet Headquarters… we know that is what it is because there is a Batman 66 quality sign on the wall declaring it as such… where Kirk is told he will take the Enterprise to escort Gorkon to Earth.

Kirk doesn’t like or trust the Klingons and says so.  Repeatedly.  They killed his son.  They aren’t to be trusted, and so on.  But orders are orders and it is felt Kirk and the Enterprise might engender respect from the Klingons.  Also, if Kirk doesn’t go there won’t be much of a movie with him just hanging out in San Fransisco complaining about the damp and his hiatal hernia.

Kirk meets up with the Klingon ship and Gorkon is invited with his staff to a dinner on the Enterprise where there is much drinking and quoting of Shakespeare.

The quoting of Shakespeare is no new thing in Trek.  Khan had his moments with it in Star Trek II.  Hell, the film’s title is a Shakespeare reference. But the writers seemed to have fallen in love with the idea of the likes of General Chang, played by Christopher “Captain von Trapp” Plummer, quoting the bard and declaring that it can only fully be appreciated in the original Klingon.  And so we get a lot of Shakspeare out of Chang and others, as well as Spock quoting a Vulcan proverb about “Only Nixon could go to China” and some like nonsense that starts to feel a bit too try hard after a while.

Then again, perhaps they were reflecting the times to well once again, making a parallel to America’s cultural influence on the world.

Anyway, before the night is over Gorkon is dead, Kirk and McCoy are under arrest by the Klingons, and after a trial where they are defended by Michael Dorn, who is playing Worf’s grandfather, are sentenced to life at a penal colony on a frozen planet, which they even call a gulag at one point, so once more we’re bleeding a bit between here and there.

After a few rounds of prison humor and an elaborate and unnecessary side plot to kill Kirk and McCoy via an escape play, they managed to escape, beamed back up to the Enterprise and have to rush to save Gorkon’s daughter because the whole thing was a plot by war mongers on both sides of the cold war to keep the bad times going.

Enterprise ex machina.  Everybody saved, bad guys apprehended (or killed), and a standing ovation from the crowd at the peace conference… which includes a flash of some aliens doing a straight arm, vertical clapping motion just like the aliens in Galaxy Quest, which makes me wonder if that was where the idea came from.

In the end the whole thing is a bit of a mess, though it is also possible I am getting less charitable with each film, something that doesn’t necessarily speak well for the series.

We have a Cold War parallel, a murder mystery, a prison break, betrayal and collusion, and something like a presidential assassination all in motion along with the usual personality play going on, all of which feels like too much and not enough at the same time.  And the fact that pretty much everybody just ignores what Star Fleet tells them to do doesn’t help.

After saving the galaxy once more we end up with the crew back on the Enterprise, which is set to be retired… something of a shame because it was finally fixed and running well… and Kirk flaunts Star Fleet one last time, ignoring their order to return home, instead telling the helm “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”  That isn’t Shakespeare at least, but Peter Pan.  Something oddly appropriate about that.

Once again, it feels like a one hour episode spread too thin over about two hours of run time.  I suppose I should applaud the consistency of the six films in that regard.

All of which leads me to the final ranking of the original series films.

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  6. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I could be argued into a couple of swaps, but I think Wrath of Khan is the most solid of the run and The Final Frontier the biggest mess.

And that is it.  We will get to see Shatner one more time in Star Trek: Generations, but it will be the cast of The Next Generation headlining for the next four films.

Star Trek V The Final Frontier

My wife is already starting to ask when we get to the Chris Pine Star Trek films.  We have a ways to go yet.

Instead we have arrived at the fifth film in our marathon, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and a pattern has started to emerge.  What these films seem to all have in common so far is that they might have made decent one hour episodes for the original series, but there is a lot of fluff being grafted on to them to turn them into two hour movies… though, Star Trek V ran only one hour and forty six minutes, so it has that going for it.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Going into this viewing I knew that this entry has been generally regarded as the worst of the films, so I fortified myself for some effort to get through it.  But, as with much of what we have seen so far, it is neither as bad as I expected nor as good as one might hope.

Star Trek V is also unique in the series in being the one I don’t think I have ever watched all the way through.  I am pretty sure I have caught bits of it on TV.  I recall seeing the climax with the memorable Kirk quip at one point, but have no memory at all of the rest of it.

As with the previous three films, this one picks up pretty much immediately after the last one.  I don’t know why they felt such a need for continuity.  They could have just gone “five years later…” if only to cover for the actors, whom were all a decade older than they were when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released.

But there we start, days after the last movie ended.  Most of the bridge crew is on shore leave while Mister Scott is up on the new Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, trying to get it fit for service.  Unfortunately, it appears to have been built by at GM Fremont plant, a location infamous for poor quality.  This American Life did an episode about how it was so bad that GM and the UAW agreed to work with Toyota in order to try and fix it. (Telsas are now built there, so quality control problems are still an issue at that location.)

Anyway, I digress.  The ship is a mess, things don’t work, there is a skeleton crew aboard, and Kirk, Spoke, McCoy, Checkov, and Sulu are all off on a wilderness hike when Star Fleet calls and needs them to run off on a mission… again.  How many ships and crews does Star Fleet have?

The problem is on Nimbus III, a joint venture between the Klingons, Romulans, and the Federation in the neutral zone, a location that looks like the set for a Mad Max film, a feeling only enhanced by the ragged garb and thrown together weapons the locals are carrying.

On this planet we find Sybok, a Vulcan.  He is rallying the various tribal factions into a single army through the sheer force of his charisma and being a really good listener.  We learn later from Spock that Sybok has rejected Vulcan tradition, been cast out from the planet, and has been wandering the galaxy forming his own pseudo religion.  Also, he is Spock’s half-brother, something the film felt the need to establish with a completely unnecessary flash back to his birth.  I would have been more interested in an explanation about what Sarek, their shared father, was up to.  Sarek is the ambassador to the Federation, a high status position, and having two wives, one of them human, was apparently no impediment to his career choice.  Though, that is speculation.  Maybe they just wanted him off Vulcan.

Anyway, Sybok captures the combined administrative outpost, making the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan representatives his prisoner… momentarily.  He soon persuades them to join his cause.  They send out a distress signal to lure a starship to come to their rescue.

And the first starship on the scene is the USS Enterprise, again half functional and under staffed, because the Federation has no other ships or competent officers available.  They fall for Sybok’s trap, he takes over the ship, and has them set a course for the center of the galaxy where he proposes to find the garden of Eden and its various forms that seem to be a common origin story for the races involved.

Wasn’t there a space hippies episode of the original series that had a similar premise?

Meanwhile, a second ship shows up, filled with what I can only call the Jersey Shore version of Klingons, whose commander is keen to blow up a Federation ship, any Federation ship, so the lure of one commanded by the infamous Kirk.  So they give chase and everybody crashes through the impenetrable great barrier that keeps people out of the center of the galaxy, which turns out to be super easy, barely an inconvenience.

Through, the go to God’s planet, which could also be a Mad Max set, or maybe a 40s western set, take a shuttle down, and meet up with God once he teleports them into an obvious sound stage.  There God puts on his benevolent Olympian God face and asks Sybok, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to take him on their starship out of this place where he has been imprisoned and out into the greater galaxy.

This is where we arrive at the “Why does God need a starship?” point of the show.  It certainly does cast doubt on the omniscient and omnipresent aspects of the all mighty.  Through various machinations the Klingon bird of pray attacks and dethrones God, everybody has a good end of episode chuckle, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy go back to camping and singing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  The end.

Holy moly that was some bad Trek.  It had all the goofiness of The Voyage Home with almost none of the entertainment value.  Sybok’s secret power, the ability to release deep seated pain in people, reveals that McCoy assisted his father in his wish to die and that Uhuru has the hots for Scotty, so character development was that and Kirk liking to free climb and Spock having a half-brother that we’ll never speak of again.  The rambling, incoherent story, in the tradition of the series, left out a lot of salient details, like how the pretend God managed to tell Sybok where to go or why Spock’s name ends in a “ck” while Sybok only gets a “k.”

Anyway, on the ranking scale, the only question is whether or not it was better or worse that Star Trek: The Motion PictureThe Final Frontier was so bad… but TMP was so boring.  I am going to have to give TMP the nod based on coherence and special effects, but the gap between the two isn’t huge.

So my ranking for now stands as:

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  5. Star Trek: The Final Frontier

That gets us through five of the six original series films.  We have Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country left to go.  Can we end on a high note before we roll into The Next Generation films?

Star Trek IV The Voyage Home

The fourth entry in our Star Trek movie marathon, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which debuted 36 years ago yesterday, has left me in something of an odd position.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The previous two films we watched in the series were actually both much better than I remembered.  They were not without fault, but not as awkward as expected.  And even the first film in the series was at least no worse than memory told me.  But now we’re at what many consider “the good one” in the series and… I’m not feeling it all the way.

The film picks up immediately after the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  The crew of the recently destroyed Enterprise are on Vulcan with recreated/reborn Spock and their stolen Klingon bird of prey.  Meanwhile, back on Earth charges are being leveled against Kirk and his crew for a variety of crimes, including stealing the Enterprise and then blowing it up.

The crew gets aboard their pilfered Klingon prize, now with HMS Bounty painted on the side, a reference that will be forgotten almost immediately, to head back to Earth in order to face the music.

Meanwhile, in the footsteps of Nomad and V’Ger, yet another space probe is headed towards Earth disabling ships and stations that cross its path, and broadcasting an indecipherable message.  For a small unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy, Earth sure seems to be the center of attention to random undiscovered alien civilizations and their various space probes.

Anyway, as usual, the crew of the Enterprise has to save Earth once more.  Unlike anybody else, they figure out that the message is being beamed at Earth’s oceans and are able to modify it to what it would sound like under water, recognizing it as the song of a humpback whale.  But whales are extinct on Earth, so the logical option is to go back in time to get some.

So, in a bit of dramatic hand wavery, they accelerate past warp 9 to zip around the sun in order to go back in time because… well, doesn’t Superman do it that way?  Now, leaving aside that warp 9 in supposed to be 729 times the speed of light, at which speed navigating around something as small as our star seems ludicrously unlikely, they do manage to get flung back in time, to 1986… because the plot demands it…  which also just happens to be when the film was made.  For once everything will be authentic when somebody goes back in time.

It just makes me wonder if it was possible the for crew of the Enterprise to see the film crew… or something.  There has to be a paradox in there somewhere.

Of course, there are problems.  The cheap WorfMart dilithium crystals the Klingons had been fueling the ship with ran out of juice traveling back in time, so they only have enough power for a day cloaked, unless they can find a way to recharge them.

In the mean time they land in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and then spend to wandering around and getting into absurd situation… like taking a bus to Sausalito only to end up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The crew seems to magically teleport around various SF Bay Area locations, including a scene below the Golden Gate Bridge that appears to be a reverse of a shot in Vertigo.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak stood in front of a green screen just like this

This is, again, my own baggage, having lived all of my life in the SF Bay Area and having been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium at least a half a dozen times.  I could mark out on a map where their short jaunts took them in reality based on their filming locations.

Anyway, there are ever so many comic misunderstandings and at one point Spock jumps in a tank at the aquariums to mind meld with a whale as McCoy and Scotty go off in search of a travel carrier big enough for two humpback whales while Uhura and Checkov seek out the nuclear reactor of the 1986 version of the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier CVN-65 in order to recharge the Klingon ship… something that requires Checkov to say “nuclear wessels” about five times beyond the point when it was funny.

At that point the whole thing is just one goofy situation after the next, not the least of which is Uhura and Checkov not knowing where Alameda is when we had already established the fact that Star Fleet Headquarters is in 23rd century San Francisco, a place they have no doubt spent some time at, from which you could probably see Alameda across the bay.

Anyway, everything works out, they grab some whales and get back to the 23rd century, drop them in 23rd century San Francisco bay, which must be much warmer that the current bay, because nobody jumps into that water happily in our time and the whole crew seems glad to wade on into it.  The whales sing, the space probe gets the message, packs its bags and heads off, repairing the things it broke on the way out.  Earth is saved and the status quo is restored… though no explanation is ever given as to how the space probe knew about whales or what it wanted or anything like that.  I mean, at least we got some sort of motivation from Nomad and V’Ger when it was there turn.  Oh well.

After everybody calmed down from Earth being saved yet again, court is finally back in session and the crew is on trial, but all charges but one are dismissed, the remainder being disobeying orders, leveled solely at Kirk.  As punishment he is reduced in rank to captain once more and given command of the new USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A.  That will teach him to obey orders!

So my problem is, after trashing Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being ridiculous, how can I possibly give this film a pass?  It is objectively a less plausible, with more hand-waving “space magic” than the first picture.  It is practically the script of the first film, with time travel, whales, and no Enterprise.  And don’t get me started on glib dismissals of time travel paradoxes.  Is the 23rd century they return to even the same one they left after they stomped around Earth for a few days, handing out advanced technology like candy at Halloween?  How can I possibly rank it as anything but last in my running tally?

Well, the prime defense I have of it is that being boring isn’t on its list of sins.  It is silly and nonsensical and just plain dumb at points, and the script just yadda yadda yaddas past a host of issues, but is always a bit of a laugh… and it helps that it was filmed at locations I recognized.

If I had to rank this based on damage to Star Trek canon it might be at the bottom of the list.  But as an entertainment vehicle, it does hold its own.  You keep watching even if the whole venture is difficult to take seriously.

So, with that in mind, my ranking of the films so far is:

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I had to wrestle over whether The Voyage Home got second or third place, but it edged out The Search for Spock based on entertainment value and the fact that the other film did not lack for its own set of extremely goofy moments and was itself based on the premise of bringing Spock back to life to carry on as before.

Now we’re on to the fifth film in the series, where we will attempt to answer the question, “Why does God need a starship?”

Star Trek III The Search for Spock

We have made it to the third entry in our Star Trek film festival of sorts.  After the uptick in quality we saw with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, it was time to hit another odd numbered film with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

We’re at another point where I think I have only seen this film once, probably back in the theater, back when it premiered in 1984.  That I saw it in that particular context meant my reaction then was considerably different than the way I responded it to it last week.

To start with, Christopher Lloyd is the Klingon commander, Kirk’s main nemesis. At the time I only knew him from his role in the show Taxi (also my baseline for Danny Devito) where he played the erratic Reverand Jim, a character whose unique personality traits I projected onto the Captain Kruge character in the film.  This, of course, pre-dates many of the roles that would influence my views about him, including the Back to the Future series of films.  So 1984 me saw him as Reverend Jim the Klingon, while 38 years down the road… well, if not Reverend Jim, then sort of the expansive and slightly loony mix of the many characters he has since played.

And then there are some other actors I probably wouldn’t have noticed at the time, like John Larroquette… another Klingon for pete’s sake… or Miguel Ferrer who would later gain notice in RoboCop.

Anyway, the movie itself picks up immediately in the wake of Wrath of Khan, framing the situation with a few clips from the end of that film, with the Enterprise safe but damaged, Kirk headed back to base, and the photon torpedo case used to bury Spock in space sitting happily and fully intact on the surface of the planet created by the triggering of the Genesis device.

On the voyage home McCoy breaks into Spock’s quarters and has an episode where, in Leonard Nimoy’s voice, he chastises Kirk for leaving him behind on Genesis, which is now what we call the planet that was created from the device.  Kirk thinks McCoy is just drunk or suffering from PTSD and has him committed to the psych ward when they get back to Star Fleet.

There they also find that the Enterpise, now 20 years old… in reality and Star Fleet years I guess… is to be decommissioned.  As Kirk and his bridge crew are getting drunk at Kirk’s bachelor bad, where Kirk himself is wearing some leisure wear that the 70s called him to say they did not want back, when Sarek, Spock’s dad, shows up to speak with Kirk.  Sending everybody away Sarek wants to know what Kirk did with Spock’s consciousness… because, as we learn, any Vulcan that knows they’re going to die will implant themselves in another person… only to find out that Kirk doesn’t have it.

Eventually they figure out McCoy has it, so they have to break him out of the psych ward, steal the Enterprise, fly it to Genesis with just the main cast, fight a Klingon bird of prey captained by Reverend Jim, find Spock’s body, collect everything together and get to Vulcan where in some “are you sure you want to do this?” ceremony, Spock can be put back together so he can be in the next film.

Roll credits and cue the time travel whale hunt in the next film!

I previously compared this movie to Spock’s Brain, the opening episode of season 3 of the original series, and widely regarded as the worst episode in the bunch.  Seriously, the plot line is literally somebody STEALS Spock’s brain and the crew of the Enterprise has to go find it and put it back.

But The Search for Spock is not that bad.  I must be feeling incredibly charitable towards the film series, because I enjoyed the film.

I mean sure, it is still a glorified original series episode, stretched out to two house.  And yes, there are some incredibly goofy bits in it, like when McCoy goes to what I can only describe as the Star Fleet version of the Mos Eisley cantina, complete with framing shots of strange aliens, or when half the bridge crew breaks McCoy out of the detention block and shoot up the coms station in a way very reminiscent of another Star Wars scene.  Then there is stealing the Enterprise, losing the Enterprise, stealing a Klingon bird of prey, and the fact that on reassembly Spock remembers something he said to Kirk that we established earlier happened AFTER he backed up his brain in McCoy.  I mean, is that how brain backups work?  Are they like jump clones in EVE, getting a constant update feed until the being dies?

Anyway, in summary, it was goofy and had its flaws, but not in a huge immersion breaking way.  It wasn’t as tight as Wrath of Khan, though that has its own level of goofiness, but it wasn’t bad. So for the ranking so far we’re going to put it in second place.

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Next up, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  We’re watching that tonight after Thanksgiving dinner has been finished and cleared away.

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Our Star Trek film festival continues, having survived contact with Star Trek: The Motion Picture last week, to arrive at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The Wrath of Khan

I said in last week’s post that Wrath of Khan might be the most overrated of the films, but having watched it again I am not too sure.

In some ways it is not much more than an over-inflated, two hour episode from the original series, drawing as it did from the episode Space Seed.  But it is also, perhaps, the most iconic and influential of the film series entries.

To start with, it opens with the Kobayashi Maru training scenario, something that has become cultural short hand for a no-win situation.  I saw it applied to Elon Musk’s situation with Twitter just last week in a major publication.

And then there is this.

Kirk shouting “Khaaaaaaan!”

Just go Google “Kirk Khan meme” and see how many entries you get.

So, for cultural impact, its bona fides are clearly established.

But is it a good movie?  Yes?

I mean, it is much, much better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it was also the one from the TOS films that I had seen most recently… possibly the only one I had seen this century… and my fuzzy memories from that viewing were not ones of enthusiasm.

And it has the same starting problem.  Why did they make Kirk an admiral only to have to spend time at the start of every film finding an excused for him to take over, commandeer, or steal the Enterprise?  They always come up with something, and we have to have that scene reflecting on being old and missing command of a ship.  I guess that pads out the run time a bit.

Overall though, despite my misgivings over whatever that last viewing entailed, it was pretty good.  I enjoyed watching it.

In being essentially a two hour long TOS episode worked to its benefit.  It got in some of the classic aspects of the show, including two larger than life performances out of Shatner and Montalban as the egos of their two characters clashed on screen.  We had ships fighting, silly space maneuvers, engineering problems, handy close by cosmic anomalies to hide in, some decent uniforms for the crew… both crews, because Khans space rogues were quite the site, and Shakespeare quotes… though not in the original Klingon.

We also got to see Kirk having consequences from a past relationship!

Yes, they had to also work us with the Kirk/Spock relationship.  But after years of the Trek stories in paperback where every budding author couldn’t seem to resist working in some sort of “Spock must wrestle with his human side and his relationship with Kirk” aspect, that is hard to get worked up about.

It was good, kept my attention, had decent effects, a silly but enjoyable plot line, and few dragging moments that felt like they could have been trimmed from the script.  Overall, I’d watch it again.

So that is two of the films down, and in the hope that we’ll keep watching, I’m going to start a stack rank of them by quality or enjoyment or whatever metric is within me.  It is easy at this point, with only two films under our belts.

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The next on the list is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Spock’s Brain entry in the series, if you know what I mean.  I haven’t see it since it came out.  We’ll see how it rates.

Star Trek The Motion Picture

HBO Max sent me an update that included a tidbit about them now having all of the Star Trek film franchise available on their streaming service.  This seemed like it might be an opportunity for a movie marathon at our house.  My wife and I do that now and then, watch some series of movies like Star Wars or Harry Potter or James Bond from start to finish.

And when I asked her if she was up for it, she said she was.  We’re still waiting for Andor to get a few episodes ahead and we’re about done with most other things we’ve been watching, so it seemed like a good distraction, and it had been a while since we had done one of these.

Of course, the Star Trek movie franchise definitely has its ups and downs.  We said we were up for it, but we will have to see how far we get.

The first in the series is Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the 1979 debut of the franchise on the big screen.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This was a big freaking deal to me back in 1979, and my friend Chris and I, both big Star Trek fans, went and saw it at the Century Theaters… the same place I saw Star Wars for the first time in 1977… and, hrmmm… the memories are a bit faded.  On the one hand, I know we were into it in our own way.  On the other, we didn’t go back and see it again… and I had seen Star Wars multiple times in the theater when it launched.

Honestly, I cannot remember if I had sat down to watch the whole thing since its debut back then.

So my wife and I settled in to watch it.

It isn’t great.

It isn’t completely horrible, but I can see why I never went back to watch it again.

As I said, at the time, Star Trek landing on the big screen was a big freaking deal, and not just for some teenage boys in what would become Silicon Valley.  The original series had been cancelled after three seasons back in the mid-60s, but had gained such a following that it was almost continuously on somewhere in syndication.  There was a plethora of novels featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise, and an animated series that tried to fill the gap, but none of it was enough to satisfying the fans.

This was the level of Star Trek that was sustaining us on computers

I know very little about how the film came to be (and avoided reading up on it to keep my impressions distinc), but my speculation, having watched it again, is that the success of Star Wars in the theaters and Battlestar Galactica on TV shook the franchise loose and got people looking to run with it again.  The problem seems to be the lack of a decent script.

What they ended up with was basically an retread of an original series episode, writ large to be a full film… and it wasn’t enough.  The episode they cribbed from had enough material to fill out the 45 minutes required, but the script had to pad that out to two hours.

So we spend a lot of time… a whole lot of time… basically looking at cool visuals.

And I get it, 2001: A Space Odyssey made it on that, and part of the appeal of Star Wars was the work of Industrial Light and Magic and the images they created for a galaxy far away, so there was pressure on the production team to deliver a stellar look that would compete.

This first Star Trek film is just filled with very slow, almost set piece “Hey, look at that, isnt’ that cool!” moments of the new Enterprise, the space dock, the ship interiors, some Klingon ships (and their interiors), and of course, the spectacle of V’Ger.

It is all very pretty.  It looked good on our TV.  It probably looked even better on the big screen back in 1979.  The story just doesn’t do very much with it.  It doesn’t use, make interesting, or deliver on the promise of the effects in the film.

Nor does it do very much with the characters.  In the absence of a solid story, the original series used to lean heavily on the cast to bring the stories to life, to add emotion, to get us invested.  It is fun to mock Shatner these days, but his performances back in the original series are part of what gave it life.  He was the embodiment of the confident, aggressive optimism of the United States before we soiled ourselves and lost our way over Vietnam.

The whole thing felt stretched thin, not enough material to fill the time which lead to gratuitous use of good, but neither exciting not world beating, moments of special effects.

But here’s the thing… it was enough.  It did well at the box office, which demonstrated the pent up demand at the time for more Star Trek.  That got us six movies overall based on the original series, another four around Star Trek: The Next Generation, and three more as a reboot of the franchise.

It is never going to make my favorites list, but it served its purpose.

My wife wasn’t big on it either, so there is some question as to whether or not we’ll carry on.  But if we do, the next on the list is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  That started the trend of even numbered titles being the “good” ones, as well as getting the crew in better uniforms.  (Did I mention the uniforms in the first movie kind of sucked as well?)  But it might possibly be the most overrated in the series as well.  It has been years since I’ve seen it, so we’ll have to see.

The Influence of Star Trek

In a world where there was no Star Trek, what becomes of the post-Trek cultural artifacts that range from Galaxy Quest to The Big Bang Theory to catch phrases to television tropes to William Shatner doing Priceline.com commercials?  He’s not getting that gig because of T. J. Hooker or that one episode of The Twilight Zone.

What does the world look like without Star Trek’s influence?

I know, Star Trek feels dated.

The pilot for the original series was done and rejected before I was even born.  The series itself had run its three seasons and was cancelled before I even old enough to know it was a thing.

But then, somehow, it stayed alive.  It ran, and remained popular, in syndication for years and years.  I and millions of others watch those re-runs and the follow-on animated series.  Before Star Wars could have an expanded universe there was already a pile of Star Trek novels available.  There were models and costumes and board games and books just about the phenomena that was Star Trek.  There was even a store over at the San Antonio shopping center at one point called Starbase One or some such.  It sold other science fiction stuff.  You could find a battery powered Robby the Robot or a model of an Eagle from Space 1999 or a few Lost in Space related items, but most of the place was just stacked up with Star Trek related items.

There was a time when having a store dedicated to Star Trek seemed like a sound business decision.  And I used to just nerd out in there when I wasn’t over at the Hobby Shop.

I’ve even written about the first computer video game I ever played, which was, of course, Star Trek.

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek was a big freakin’ deal.  And it was cemented into my consciousness before Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or Alien or any number of other science fiction franchises.

It wasn’t high art.  The original series could be groan inducingly bad at times.  The third season especially seemed to have trouble finding decent scripts.  And it hasn’t aged very well.  It feels awkward and self-conscious today.

But at the time it filled a need.  It was water on a desert.  It was optimistic and hopeful and showed us a future that looked pretty damn cool.  I wanted to be on the Enterprise, to be a part of that crew.

And the cornerstone of that crew was the half human, half Vulcan Mr. Spock.  I do not think Star Trek works without him and his exotic look and pointy ears and oddly compelling logical view of the universe.  Yes, sometimes emotion would win out, but only when it was logical for it to do so. No character so well defined the series (or was so completely abused in the subsequent flood of novels) than Mr. Spock.

I remember once, back in the early 90s, explaining to a co-worker about Star Trek.  She grew up overseas and emigrated to the United States as a graduate student and then stayed on, marrying a fellow immigrant and settling down in Silicon Valley.  She was (and remains) very smart and was interested in various cultural things.  One day we were giving the “Live Long and Prosper” sign in the lab and she wanted to know about it.

So I gave her a little background on Star Trek and then tried to help her get her hand to do the sign, which she couldn’t quite manage.  Then her husband showed up to pick her up on the way home from his job, and when he walked into the room I turned to him and gave him the sign… and he put his hand up and returned it, causing his wife to boggle in disbelief.  She practically shouted the question, “How do you know that?”  It was a beautiful moment.

Being able to do that was the universal nerd secret handshake and high sign at the time.  If you were in the club, you practiced making that sign until you could do it without hesitation.  And if you couldn’t do it, you weren’t in the goddam club.  But he was in the club.  We were all in the club around those parts.

Live long and prosper

Live long and prosper

I know that this is a bunch of silly, half thought through, semi-connected statements, but it represents the rush of emotion that ran through my brain when I read today that Leonard Nimoy had passed away at age 83.  He and his character were an unreasonably big part of my early life.

And I know he was more than just Mr. Spock, that he played more roles and had a wider range of interests and a life outside of all of that.

But Mr. Spock was important to us and he got that and he played the role long after many people would have tired of the whole thing because he got how important it was.  And through that he will have achieved a sort of immortality.  Mr. Spock lives on.

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

The First Computer Game I Ever Played

Not an arcade video game.  I think I played Pong first.

But an actual, sit down at the terminal, computer game.

It was Star Trek.

A friend’s dad had to go into the office one weekend and brought us along to show us the game that somebody had put on the accounting computer.  He left us to poke at it while he went off and did his work.  A clear waste of government resources back in an age when most people didn’t really know what a video game was, outside of Pong and Tank, and where the idea of a computer game probably would not have occurred to them.

It was a very simple game.  You were tasked to clear out the galaxy of hostile elements with a limited set of resources.

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

It was a pivotal moment in my life.  We were entranced.

I am sure the fact that it was called Star Trek, and represented the Enterprise fighting Klingons helped.  Star Trek was a big deal at the time, which was at least a year before Star Wars.  Maybe two.  It also pre-dated my Atari 2600.

We had such a good time with the game that my friend and I ended up creating a board game version of it so we could play at home.  We were engrossed.  It was the first in a series of games we created by piecing together the mechanics we discovered from other games.  Our home version got more complex over time.

It also got us to go out with horded allowance money to buy games like Star Fleet Battles as time went on, both to play them and to see how they dealt with spaceship combat.  There was even a foray in to naval miniatures rules and the like.  It was a heady time.

Anyway, I bring this up because over at The Register, the have a short piece up about the history of the original Star Trek game as part of the Antique Code Show series.